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  Etty Hillesum   
Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew whose life ended at age 29 in Auschwitz. However, it is neither the brevity of her life, nor its tragic conclusion, that makes Etty Hillesum special. What made her special was what has allowed adherents of several different religious streams to claim her as exemplary of what is best in their traditions:

In its outward manifestation Etty Hillesum’s life was neither particularly Jewish nor Christian nor anything else; however, it was unequivocally and uncompromisingly hers, dismissive of the artificial boundaries between one person and another, one group of human beings and the next. In her relentless search for meaning and truth and love Etty came to transcend even the most unbridgeable gap of all: the one that divides us from recognizing the humanity of our enemies.

Watching her friends whom she had cared for and nursed as a volunteer in the Westerbork camp disappear into the trains, knowing where they went, and finally even choosing to follow them, did not eradicate her appreciation and celebration of life, nor her gratitude for being given the opportunity to experience it as long and fully as she might. To the end she made better what she could, and tried to recognize God’s hand even in those things she could not.

The name „Hillesum“ is to remind us simply of that: that we must strive to see as kindred spirits even those with whom we do not agree, that all are God’s children entitled to be treated as such.


Of course, even in her extraordinary ability to resist bitterness and cynicism and the demonization of the other, Etty Hillesum has good company, from Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav to Muhammas Gandhi to Mother Teresa. They all embody what the Dalai Llama calls „the religion of kindness“ that is the shared heritage and obligation of all human beings.